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Liguria’s summer camps: left abandoned for forty years

22 July, Il Secolo XIX

The coast of Liguria is 330 km long, and there are 149 centres dedicated “to the wellbeing and the education of children”. They are the summer camps, built between the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century in the most beautiful corners of Liguria. Philanthropists promoted their construction, and they became through the years hospitals to treat workers’ children suffering from rickets and scrofula during the industrial revolution. They were then turned into war hospitals. During the fascism, they were used to train the “homo italicus”, and some of them were used as concentration camps. After the war till the boom of mass tourism, summer camps were the beach destination for thousands of children from northern Italy. These facilities had a second life as a hotels and schools. Some of them had been entirely neglected, obstructed by planning restrictions, forgotten during the construction crisis and subject to expensive and improbable real estate operations. In any case, they’re part of the history of Liguria.

Thanks to Francesca Segantin, architect specialised in architectural heritage with a PhD at Politecnico in Milan, summer camps have become an opportunity worth to explore. She listed them, categorised them, studied their historical context. As she explained in her PhD study and some other publications, these buildings must be seen as “historic, social and architectural assets whose function had changed throughout the years depending on the social and aesthetic requirements”.

Misused properties worth one billion euro

In her research, Segantin reported 149 facilities in Liguria, from Sarzana to Ventimiglia. Of these, 67 were built to expressly accommodate children from the proletarian families of the north, while the others were created by reconverting old factories. They gradually started to close down at the end of the Seventies, as more and more families could afford beach holidays. 20 facilities were demolished and were replaced by holiday houses and hotels. It’s the case of Merello in Spotorno, for example. Other 33 were turned into schools, hotels and nursing homes. Only five have kept their original function, but they’re called now “holiday camps”. Finally, 14 are in a state of total neglect, although the total value of such facilities might amount up to one billion euro.

“There were designed to be cities within the city, self-sufficient communities- explains Segantin – With the help from politicians, they can be recovered, as it happened in Emilia- Romagna, avoiding erasing a piece of history of the region”.

However, Liguria is not Emilia-Romagna. The region needs spaces to reconvert and quality hotel facilities. For this reason, Celle Ligure, whose summer camp was left in a dangerous state of degrading, is currently carrying out two major requalification operations.

The Bergamo and Milano camps

The first operation concerns the Bergamo summer camp: five wings on Via Aurelia, between Varazze and Celle Ligure, a private beach and view on one of the most beautiful spots of Liguria, plus the proximity to the tourist port of Varazza. The operation costs around 90 million euro: 15.5 to acquire the property in 2009 (which was built in 1895) from the Azzanelli Cedrelli Celati foundation and Italcementi. The company Punta Olmo, whose 51% is owned by the diocesan institute for the support of the clergy, will build in two of the wings 48 apartments and a four- or five- star resort. The construction works will start in September or October.

The second operation is related to the Milano camps, bordering with the Bergamo one and the small Cottolengo (still active). Cassa Depositi e Prestiti is involved in the operation, acquiring 9,610 Sq m from the Region of Lombardy and including Celle Ligure in its program to relaunch tourism. The bank will build a big hotel, residences and a 2-thousand-Sq m spa. Mayor Renato Zunino is excited: “We’re about to close the deal, Celle will have high-quality tourist infrastructures”. Besides, the town of Celle will gain in safety, as there will be no more risks concerning the degraded summer camps.

The last members of the staff left the Ospizio Marino Piemontese in Loano 35 years ago, since then, the big liberty-style hospital 300 metres from the coast had changed ownership several times, until it was bought by Arte, a regional construction company, from Asl Liguria, which sold the property to pay its debts.

No hope

The last time Marino Piemontese was put for auction, the starting price was only 8.2 million euro, but there were no offers, although the facility, once the requalification process will be completed and the property will be no more restricted to its social-healthcare use, can be used for residential and touristic purposes (social housing included). But there’s nothing to do: no buyers. As a result, the high-ceiling long corridors will continue being a shelter for homeless people.

The Brescia summer camp in Laono is also stuck. The old wings were demolished, but the plans dating back in the Nineties to turn the place into residential and touristic facilities have never been implemented. Mayor Luigi Pignocca comments: “Perhaps, it’s not the right moment for such large real estate interventions. For this reason, I believe, when the summer camp Città di Torino started to struggle economically, the Municipality of Loano began a negotiation with the City of Turin. It resulted in an agreement to transform the facility into a hostel during the high season, while it will continue to host the boys and girls from Turin during the low season and a part will accommodate the local associations. Mixed use also for the beach: a part will be free access, and a part will be occupied by beach establishments.

Since these assets are difficult to sell, the municipal administrations are working on the possible solutions. For the former Olivetti summer camp in Marinella, which got the attention of the entrepreneurs Gabriele Volpi and Enrico Preziosi, the current restriction limiting the use as hostel might be lifted. In Ceriale, the old Verena camps might be turned into hotels, as long as there will be somebody willing to spend 6.5 million euro to buy them from the City of Verona.

Source: Il Secolo XIX

Translator: Cristina Ambrosi

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